April 21, 2023

Internal Conflict


On 15 April, tensions between the Rapid Support Forces (RSF – a militia group, led by General Hemetti) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF – led by the de facto ruler of Sudan, General al-Burhan) escalated into widespread internal conflict. The fighting has spread to several urban centres (including Port Sudan, Merowe, and Khartoum), with the capital rocked by airstrikes from jets and attack helicopters, artillery, and small arms fire. Fighting has not abated, raising concerns for travellers trapped in the country.


The Conflict So Far


Fighting has spread to urban centres nationwide: Since 15 April, fighting has been reported in Merowe (Northern State), Khartoum, Port Sudan (Red Sea State), Ad Damazin (Blue Nile State), El-Gadarif (Al Qadarif State), El Obeid (North Kurdufan State), and across the historically contentious Darfur region (particularly in Nyala and Al Fashir). The conflict is now concentrated in Northern Khartoum and Omdurman (particularly the military headquarters, Khartoum Airport, the Presidential Palace, and the state broadcaster), and the Darfur region. As many as 270 people are reportedly dead, though actual figures are likely to be considerably higher. Civilians have increasingly attempted to escape urban centres, fleeing south towards Sennar State and Jazeera State, where fighting is currently less prevalent.


So far, three humanitarian ceasefires have been proposed (most recently on 20 April), though all three have failed to materialise, leaving millions of civilians trapped in the conflict, including foreign nationals and aid workers.


Territorial control is unclear: Both sides have claimed strategic victories nationwide, including airports and large portions of the capital (particularly the Presidential Palace, the General Command of the Armed Forces, Khartoum Airport, and the state broadcaster in Omdurman). However, exact territorial boundaries are unclear and often contested.


Severe operational disruption is widespread: Local nationals and travellers are experiencing widespread shortages of electricity, water, food, and vital medicines. Large neighbourhoods of Khartoum are without electricity and water, with militants alleged to have prevented vital maintenance to the infrastructure network in Bahri and Khartoum, according to the New York Times.


Airports, viewed by both sides as strategic assets, have become a focal point in the conflict (particularly in Khartoum and Merowe), raising concerns over the practical feasibility of air evacuations, with the structural integrity of runways remaining unclear.



Threat to Travellers


Collateral damage: The fighting in major urban centres has resulted in an array of collateral damage and civilian deaths and injuries, primarily from indiscriminate small arms fire, indirect fire (artillery, mortars and rockets), and airstrikes from SAF attack helicopters and fighter jets, which have targeted RSF paramilitary bases nationwide and their defensive positions in Khartoum.


Both sides are alleged to have forcefully evacuated civilians from their homes and workplaces to establish defensive positions, with the RSF reported as having shelled hospitals with staff and patients still inside before storming the buildings. International government employees have also come under fire: on 16 April, the Norwegian ambassador’s residence in Khartoum was struck by a rocket, and then a day later a United States diplomatic convoy (with flags and diplomatic license plates) came under assault rifle fire, thought to be from RSF militants. It then emerged on 19 April that the head of the European Union’s humanitarian agency in Sudan was shot in Khartoum, with his condition currently unknown.


Banditry and looting: Reports of looting and banditry against both local nationals and foreign travellers have emerged nationwide. In Khartoum and Darfur, RSF militants are reported to have broken into civilian homes and businesses, stealing money, technology (laptops and phones), clothing, and food. Such measures are likely to be orchestrated by the RSF due to logistical deficiencies. Those with apparent stockpiles of essential items (particularly food, water and medicine) face a higher threat. On 17 April, the UN envoy to Sudan reported gunmen were looting and burning warehouses that held aid, including from the World Food Programme, UNICEF and Save the Children. A day later, it emerged that armed men in RSF uniforms broke into the European Ambassador’s residence in Khartoum, threatening him at gunpoint, assaulting him and stealing money.


Possibility of Escalation


So far, the conflict has been between the RSF and the SAF. However, the situation is vulnerable to the involvement of further actors, including ethnic-based militias, resistance committees (decentralised youth groups operating primarily in urban centres, in opposition to both SAF and RSF) and even other countries. Should these actors join the conflict, the security environment is likely to deteriorate.


With civilians fleeing conflict zones, such as those from Khartoum and surrounding areas primarily heading southwards towards Sennar and Jazeera states, competition over finite essential items may trigger ethnic-based violence.


So far, the resistance committees have not mobilised beyond local aid efforts in their respective neighbourhoods. However, should the conflict continue (and grievances among the population continue to rise), these groups may start to take on the functions of the state, particularly the provision of security through armed mobilisation. This could see a complete fracturing of the Sudanese state, with urban centres defined by pockets of local youth militias competing with both the RSF and SAF on a local level.


Although they are likely to have a limited appetite for direct involvement in the conflict, regional governments have vested interests in Sudan, raising the possibility of their future involvement. Hemetti and his RSF have links to the Russian Wagner Group, which could offer training to the RSF, though he denies the links and has rejected its potential involvement. The United Arab Emirates has investments in Sudan and views al-Burhan and the SAF with suspicion, meaning they may be willing to supply Hemetti with arms and equipment. Additionally, Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar is alleged to have airlifted supplies to support the RSF. Meanwhile, Egypt has a pro-al-Burhan stance, and is reported to have sent pilots and jets to aid the SAF.  Such international relations raise concerns of a protracted conflict.


Security Advice


–Rest in place if in Khartoum, particularly in the northern areas.

– Contact your local embassy / consulate if possible.

–Ensure escalation contact details are up-to-date and available.

–Secure your residence as best you can: block gates with vehicles, and secure all windows and doors.

–Keep a low profile, particularly if you have supplies such as food, fuel, water, and generators.

–Try to soundproof the room where a generator is located, provided it is safe to do so.

–Ration generators, water, and foodstuffs (avoid using a generator at night if possible).

–Try to remain on lower floors of buildings (or basements).

–Stay away from windows and keep blinds and curtains drawn. If possible, block windows with mattresses or tables to reduce impact from projectiles and debris.

–Prepare a grab-bag, including a copy of passports, driving license, ID documents (if possible keep originals hidden on your person), cash reserves, non-perishable foodstuffs and other essential items (such as medicines, hygiene products, and phone chargers).

–Remain aware of known areas of conflict and escalation and avoid.

–Contact NGS if you need assistance at +44 207 183 8910 or using the NGS App Plus emergency contact button.





Author: Gary Abbott, Risk Analyst, Northcott Global Solutions




Northcott Global Solutions provides risk assessments, tracking, security escorts, personal protective equipment, remote medical assistance and emergency evacuation.





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